Backward Chaining

Getting Dressed

Backward chaining is a term to describe a technique that is used to teach a child with autism some basic task analysis like getting dressed, eating a meal, brushing teeth, or combing their hair.

The ABA therapist or parent goes through each step of a process with the child with autism together until the last step, which the therapist prompts the child to complete. The child with autism will enjoy the success that comes from completing a task. Once the child can do the last step you complete all the steps except for the last two. Then, the two move backward through the steps until the whole process has been learned in full. For example, it takes five steps for a child to perform a skill. The therapist will provide the child with maximum support from Step 1 through Step 4 with prompts fading in Step 5 until an acceptable level of performance is observed. After learning Step 5, Step 4 is targeted to be taught, and so on and so forth. Remember to make sure the steps are precise and exact. If steps are implied, left out, or vague, the child with autism may struggle to interpret the full task.

Steps for some basic task analysis using backward chaining

Putting on Pants:

  • Sit on the floor, bed, or chair.
  • Hold pants by the waistband, look for the label at the back.
  • Lower pants and lift one leg into the leg hole.
  • Put the other leg into the second hole.
  • Pull pants up to knees.
  • Stand up and pull pants up to your waist.

Putting on Socks:

  • Sitting on the floor with your back against the wall or on a chair.
  • Hook both thumbs into the opening of a sock and hold onto the edge.
  • Push toes into the sock.
  • Lift the foot and pull the sock over the heel.
  • Pull sock up the leg.

Putting on Shoes:

  • Sitting on the floor with your back against the wall or on a chair.
  • Slip shoe over the foot. Place the index finger inside the heel of the shoe and pull the shoe the rest of the way over your foot.
  • Place foot on the floor and stand up to push the foot down into the shoe.

Research shows that backward chaining is very effective for many children with autism, particularly useful when learning self-care skills like getting dressed. But it is important for the therapist, teacher, or parent to be involved and attentive at every step. Many ABA therapists prefer backward chaining since it allows a child with autism to see the entire process from start to finish. The child with autism gets this overview of the process before they attempt to learn the task.

See the counterpart to backward chaining: Forward Chaining

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